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South Africa’s Zuma makes second court appearance on corruption charges

DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma, who was ousted by his own party in February, appeared at the Durban High Court on Friday for the second time on corruption charges relating to a $2.5 billion arms deal in the late 1990s.

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering relating to the deal to buy European military hardware to upgrade South Africa’s armed forces after the end of apartheid in 1994.

State prosecutors and Zuma’s lawyers presented arguments over a start date for the trial, a rare example of an African leader being held to account for his actions.

Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo adjourned the case to July 27 for the state and the defense to indicate whether they can commence the case. The matter will be heard in the nearby city of Pietermaritzburg to allow for renovations at the Durban court.

“There are still some applications to be launched,” he said, adding that it was still too early to say when a trial could start. Lawyers for the state said they were still ready for a trial to start in November.

Zuma, clad in a dark suit and red tie, shook hands and laughed with his supporters as he left the court. Outside, hundreds of supporters sang his name and waved placards.

The national prosecutor this week turned down a request by the 76-year-old to delay Friday’s hearing pending the outcome of a separate legal challenge over the state paying his legal fees.

The speed with which prosecutors have moved against Zuma is a sign of his waning influence since he was replaced as head of state by Cyril Ramaphosa, his former deputy, four months ago.

Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption a top priority as he seeks to woo foreign investment and revamp an ailing economy.

Zuma’s supporters say the former president, whose nine years in power were marked by economic stagnation and credit rating downgrades, is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

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South Africa’s Central Bank Claims Success in Blockchain Payment Trial

SOUTH AFRICA (coindesk) – South Africa’s central bank has announced what could be argued are astonishing results for a trial of its blockchain-based system for interbank clearance and settlement.

According to a statement released Tuesday, the South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB) said it has completed a 14-week “realistic” proof-of-concept that managed to settle the country’s typical 70,000 daily payment transactions within two hours, taking an average of 1–2 seconds for each transaction – and all while preserving full anonymity.

Based on a detailed report published by the SARB on Tuesday, the pilot saw participation from members of a consortium of banks, including Absa, Capitec, Discovery Bank, FirstRand, Investec, Nedbank and Standard Bank.

Still, SARB stated in the report that the success of its proof-of-concept doesn’t mean it plans to replace the existing real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system with a live blockchain implementation. For that, more study is needed, the central bank said, and relevant regulatory and compliance systems would need to be in place.

The bank said in the report:

“Key considerations that need to be addressed include the evaluation of supporting frameworks and other systems that integrate with the RTGS system, as well as the legal, regulatory and compliance factors. … A fully live DLT-based payments system is not currently planned in South Africa.”

As previously reported by CoinDesk, SARB first announced the trial of the project, dubbed Khokha, in February, in partnership with ethereum startup ConsenSys. The payment platform is built on top of Quorum, the enterprise blockchain platform developed by investment bank JPMorgan.

South African rand via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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South Africa’s sprawling cities hold key to Ramaphosa’s land reforms

SOUTH AFRICA (Reuters) – In this one-room shanty in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township live Dean and his two children.

He is among millions of South Africans waiting to own a plot of land they can call home after nearly three decades of promises from a post-apartheid government.

“Living in such small space actually, it’s like living like an animal. A dog lives in one room. Your house is like this. That’s why sometimes it just frustrates me. This is not actually for human beings to live in such conditions,” he said.

My eyes are full of tears. They are full of tears but you cannot see them. What is even more hurtful is that all the other places have changed but not Alexandra. This place is cluttered and congested, you can’t even see where you are.

Alexandra is home to hundreds of thousands of people crowded into a mix of formal and informal structures. Unemployment here runs at 25 percent and violent crime is rife.

During apartheid, the black majority was crowded into urban townships and rural reserves and it was illegal for Africans to acquire land beyond those settlements.

Today, while black people make up 79 percent of the total population only seven percent own urban land. Martha Gumede had to send her son to a relative’s house so she and her daughters can have some privacy when they bath in the same place they live.

“The house that I am living in is very small and I have five children and grandchildren. We cannot wash or do anything in this house, even bath. I had to send my son to live with his aunt even though his aunt does not live in a comfortable place. But I had to send him there anyway. I am now living with the girls. I wish I can get a piece of land where I can build a home for my children and be fine,” said Gumede.

Fifty six-year-old Sheila Ndlovu has lived in her parents one-room house since the ’90s, when Nelson Mandela’s release from prison gave millions of poor black South Africans hope for a brighter future.

“My eyes are full of tears. They are full of tears but you cannot see them. What is even more hurtful is that all the other places have changed but not Alexandra. This place is cluttered and congested, you can’t even see where you are – you understand? So, why does Alexandra not change? Even when the ANC’s Mandela came into power everything else changed but Alexandra defeated him,” said Sheila Ndlovu, a mother of three.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to power in February after the African National Congress (ANC) ousted Jacob Zuma, can keep his promise to redistribute land to the poor, Ndlovu says she may consider voting for the ruling party in next year’s parliamentary election.

Land is an emotive issue in South Africa, where inequality and racial divisions persist long after the end of apartheid.

But dormant land in itself is not enough says socio-economic researcher, Angelo Fick. The challenge facing the government is managing urbanisation.

“Majority of South Africans live in town’s and cities. More of them want to move to towns and cities. They need to be accommodated and that needs to be done, not just in terms of having access to land but the services that come with living inside towns and cities, which government then needs to provide for. So the challenge for the South African government shall we say 24 years post-apartheid South Africa is to make sure that they manage the urbanising process that was interrupted by apartheid and that means investing in access to land for majority of South Africans and some of that is just basic living conditions in terms of housing and making a home in order to make a life inside a city,” he said.

South Africa has been hit by sporadic demonstrations in the past few years dubbed “service delivery protests”, with residents demanding water, electricity, better housing and jobs.

Giving more poor South Africans land will not solve the huge challenges faced by Ramaphosa: government corruption, sky-high unemployment and relentless demands for jobs, houses and basic services.

But to poor South Africans, living in shacks they don’t own in impoverished townships, while the rich enjoy luxury homes with swimming pools, doesn’t feel like Mandela’s inclusive “Rainbow Nation”.

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South Africa’s economy contracts at sharpest rate in 9 years

SOUTH AFRICA (Financial Times) – South Africa’s economy contracted at the sharpest rate in almost a decade in the first three months of the year, according to official statistics, underlining the challenge confronting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid to revive growth.

Gross domestic product in Africa’s most industrialised country dropped 2.2 per cent on an annualised basis during the first quarter as mining, manufacturing and agriculture all recorded marked falls in activity, the statistics office said on Tuesday.

South Africa’s economic data have been volatile of late, with GDP rising at a 3.1 per cent rate in the last quarter of 2017 and a feared recession between 2016 and 2017 vanishing from the figures after subsequent revisions.

Overall last year the economy expanded by 1.3 per cent versus 0.6 per cent in 2016, the first time growth accelerated in four years. The South African Reserve Bank is forecasting growth of 1.7 per cent this year.

But the contraction at the start of 2018, the sharpest slowdown in nine years, underscores the fragility of the economy after years of stagnation during the corruption-plagued presidency of Jacob Zuma, who stepped down earlier this year.

Under the weight of several embarrassing scandals, the ruling African National Congress forced Mr Zuma out in favour of Mr Ramaphosa, a trade unionist turned wealthy tycoon who has pledged a business-like approach to government and to root out corruption.

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‘Save our wetlands’ – Warning of another environmental threat in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA (Sowetan Live) – Water purification is one of the primary purposes of the indigenous palmiet wetlands in South Africa‚ but they are in such a critical state that if we don’t act now‚ they may soon disappear altogether‚ an ecologist says.

“The protection and restoration of our wetlands should be a national priority‚” said Dr Alanna Rebelo‚ a wetland ecologist and postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at Stellenbosch University. Rebelo recently obtained her doctorate in Conservation Ecology at SU.

She said over 65% of South Africa’s wetlands and associated river systems have been damaged and 50% estimated to have been destroyed.

“If steps are not taken immediately to restore palmiet wetlands threatened with erosion‚ it is possible that these wetlands will be drained or lost by 2065.”

Her research focused on the Theewaterskloof and Goukou wetlands in the Western Cape as well as the Kromme wetland in the Baviaanskloof area of the Eastern Cape. Two of these palmiet wetlands are situated upstream of large municipal reservoirs that provide water for Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Rebelo said that of all ecosystems‚ wetlands are considered one of the richest in terms of services provided.

“They attenuate floods‚ mitigate water pollution‚ retain sediment‚ provide clean water and food for local communities‚ and capture and store atmospheric carbon dioxide. They also have valuable peat-beds beneath them which‚ if degraded‚ will contribute to global warming.”

Despite this‚ many of South Africa’s wetlands are in decline.

“The ecosystem services palmiet wetlands provide could soon come to a halt.

“The remaining wetlands are threatened by a plethora of different problems such as being removed to make place for agriculture‚ gully or channel erosion‚ pollution from agricultural runoff like lime and fertilizers‚ invasion by alien vegetation‚ increasingly extreme flooding and inappropriate fire regimes. Bisecting roads also have a negatively impact on palmiet wetlands because they cause knick-points in wetland systems‚ often resulting in erosion‚ which eventually drains the wetland.

“Once this erosion begins‚ it is impossible for the system to recover without active rehabilitation‚ which is costly.”

Rebelo hoped her study would feed into conservation and restoration planning of SA’s palmiet wetlands.

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South Africa aims for ‘zero carbon’ buildings in green push

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana knows how much cash going green can save.

Four years ago, after signing up for “My Green Home” – an effort by the Green Building Council of South Africa to make buildings more energy efficient – her family saw their house in the middle-class suburb of Pinelands retrofitted with energy saving LED lights, low-flow showerheads and roof-top solar panels, as well as winter insulation.

As part of the green makeover, the family also learned to cut their energy use by hanging laundry out to dry rather than using a tumble dryer, switching off appliances that aren’t being used, and switching to washing laundry with cold water.

“My children were very excited as we got to do this as a family,” Makalima-Ngewana, a consultant at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

Better yet, since joining the programme, her family’s energy costs have fallen by nearly 90 percent, she said.

As South African cities aim to battle the effects of climate change, from drought in Cape Town to the threat of rising seas and flooding in Durban, four cities have banded together to try to create zero-carbon buildings, which produce no contribution to climate change in their use of energy.

Working in conjunction with the C40 Cities initiative – a group of major world cities trying to cut climate-changing emissions – the plan is to require new buildings in Johannesburg, Cape Town, eThekwini (formerly Durban) and Tshwane (formerly Pretoria) to become much more energy efficient, to cut electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

Tim Pryce, who runs C40 energy and buildings programmes worldwide, said the effort seeks to help South African cities rapidly scale up low-carbon building efforts and share what they learn with other cities.

Buildings make up the largest single source of emissions in C40 cities globally, with over half of the total emissions, he said.

“If we are to avoid hugely damaging impacts from climate change – impacts that will make the current water shortage in Cape Town look minor – we need to drive these emissions down as rapidly as possible, towards net zero carbon all around the world by 2050 at the latest,” Pryce told Thompson Reuters Foundation.

‘NET-ZERO’ FUTURE

Cities that achieve “net zero carbon” would produce very few climate-changing emissions, with those still produced offset by means such as planting carbon-absorbing trees.

Ensuring new buildings are highly efficient and run largely on renewable energy is crucial to try to limit global warming to relatively safe levels, Pryce said.

“Our target is to work with the four cities to bring policies, such as better building codes or more ambitious planning requirements, into effect by the end of 2020,” he said.

Building experts from Sustainable Energy Africa, an organisation that promotes equitable and low carbon clean energy development, will work with teams in the target South African cities to make that happen, he said.

“It is indeed a good thing,” said Thulani Kuzwayo, a marketer with the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA), which has certified over 300 “Green Star” buildings since 2009.

To achieve the certification buildings must be energy efficient, comfortable, handle waste responsibly and contain spaces that contribute to the health and well-being of their users.

The effort “can shift paradigms in planning, design, construction and building operation,” said Kuzwayo, who is also chair of World Green Building Council’s African regional network.

Because many buildings are made to last up to 50-100 years, building them for efficiency can result in a huge savings in climate-changing emissions over time, Kuzwayo said.

However, South Africa is still at the early stages of adopting green building standards, he said.

“The problems encountered include the common perception that green buildings are expensive. They can be but they don’t have to be,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Perceived elitism associated with green buildings also can be an issue, as people tend to view them as expensive, he said.

He said changes in how buildings are created must be led by governments “for the desired scale and impact”.

“If government leads in constructing and operating energy-efficient buildings, it will propel the adoption drastically,” Kuzwayo said.

FROM POWER TO WATER

Sometimes, the worries each city faces can help drive action.

In Cape Town, the “My Green Home” effort launched “right after the power utility, Eskom, had problems to provide adequate electricity in the country,” remembers Makalima-Ngewana, whose household was chosen as one of the programme’s pioneers.

“People were challenged to come up with alternative ways to save and use power,” she said.

Now Cape Town has a new worry: water supplies, in the face of longer droughts linked to climate change.

Makalima-Ngewana’s family is now adapting to that as well, through things like reusing household wastewater as part of the city’s home greening efforts.

“Though the initial focus was strongly focused on energy saving – we still do it up to now – due to water problems we also now utilise our grey water at home,” she said.

A woman dances during a Stop Stock Outs Project activist meeting  in Soshanguve, a township outside of Pretoria on April 16, 2015. The Stop Stocks Outs Project mobilizes activists and people living with HIV or TB to record and report occurrences of stock outs in South Africa.
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Country takes landmark step for access to medicines

South Africa (msf.org) – MSF applauds effort to ‘take off patent blindfold’ and change patent laws to increase access to affordable medicines.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) applauds the landmark move by the South African government to release a new intellectual property (IP) policy that will stop the country’s process of blindly handing out patents, providing hope to people across South Africa who cannot afford the medicines they need to stay alive and healthy. The policy, which comes after years of advocacy efforts by civil society through the Fix the Patent Laws (FTPL) Campaign, is a first big step to amend the country’s patent law in favour of public health.

South African patent law currently allows pharmaceutical corporations to easily obtain multiple, undeserved patents on a single drug and charge people exorbitant prices. For example, the country has one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis (TB) and drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in the world, yet high prices have limited people’s access to several key TB drugs. People with DR-TB in South Africa could not access the drug linezolid while it was under extended patent monopoly and priced at over US$49 per tablet. At the same time, generic versions of the drug were available at as low as $8 in many countries, including in India.

Two key newer drugs for treating DR-TB, bedaquiline and delamanid, have also faced the same fate, with both already patented multiple times in South Africa, extending their patent terms beyond 20 years. These drugs are exorbitantly priced at $900 and $1,700, respectively, for a six-month treatment course. Research has shown that realistic generic target prices for these drugs could range from $48-$102 for bedaquiline and from $30-$96 for delamanid. However, because the drugs are under extended patent monopolies, prices are not expected to fall to these levels any time soon.

“I was one of the lucky few who managed to access linezolid for my treatment when the drug was extremely expensive in South Africa,” said Phumeza Tisile of Khayelitsha, who survived extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB. “I hope new patent reforms will halt the granting of multiple patents on the same medicine and increase access to affordable generic versions of lifesaving medicines that people in South Africa are desperately waiting for.”

South Africa has for decades failed to take advantage of the flexibilities allowed under World Trade Organization rules, leaving the country vulnerable to abusive patenting practices by pharmaceutical companies, and inflated medicine prices as a result. The IP policy finally released this week is in line with the international agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which allows countries to amend their patent laws to incorporate public health safeguards.

For the last nine years, the patent reform process has faced many delays, largely due to immense pressure from multinational pharmaceutical corporations. The new IP policy would not have been possible without the collective efforts of FTPL Campaign, who advocated for patent law reform and engaged with the government in many different ways, including taking to the street in protest when needed, to ensure a pro-public health approach was taken.

“It has been a long journey for the FTPL Campaign, which has consistently put pressure on the South African government to move toward patent law reforms that are in the public interest and seek to increase access to affordable medicines through generic competition,” said Salome Meyer of the Cancer Alliance, one of the members of the FTPL Campaign. “Now our focus will be to ensure that the policy is quickly turned into law and implemented properly. We must to put a stop now to people’s struggles to afford the medicines that they need.”

Until now, South Africa had a patent registration system that allowed patents to be granted without substantive review. The new policy includes explicit action points to introduce substantive search and examination on patents, as well as procedures to allow any interested party to challenge patent decisions. It also includes recommendations that can help ensure a public health-based approach for issuing compulsory licences to override unmerited patents.

“South Africa’s intellectual property policy will pave the way for a new, progressive intellectual property law in the country by prioritising people’s needs over corporations’ profits,” said Claire Waterhouse of MSF’s Access Campaign. “Countries such as Argentina and India have struck a balance between promoting public health and access to medicines, reserving patents only for truly new medicinal compounds. Following their example, we really believe that if South Africa legislates and implements this policy swiftly, it will not only ensure that people have the medicines they need but will also set a positive example for other countries and civil society groups in Africa involved in patent law reform processes.”

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Have your say on land expropriation in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA (Times Live) – The parliamentary committee that will review section 25 of the constitution, which deals with property, has invited the public to participate in the debate.

The ruling African National Congress wants the hotly debated issue of expropriation of land without compensation to be included in the Expropriation Bill.

The bill has been passed back and forth between the Presidency and parliament for the past decade. For it to pave the way for the government to seize land without compensation, it has to be updated to bolster the principle.

Although the constitution already allows for land expropriation without compensation if it is “just and equitable”, an updated bill signed into law would be the first amendment made so far to the Bill of Rights.

The parliamentary committee that will review section 25 of the constitution, which deals with property, has invited the public to participate in the debate through a series of hearings and by engaging the committee.

Its chairperson, Vincent Smith, said in an interview with the Parliamentary Monitoring Group last week that the committee wanted all South Africans “to feel free to come and give their views and to be tolerant enough to allow those who have different views to air their views”.

Having taken into account what ordinary South Africans, policy-makers, civil society organisations and academics say about the issue, the committee will then make recommendations to parliament, in the form of constitutional amendments. It has been given a deadline of August 30 2018 to deliver its recommendations.

Now, civic technology organisation OpenUp has designed an online tool – developed in partnership with the Parliamentary Monitoring Group – that makes it easy for anyone to make their voice heard on this critical issue.

The tool presents a series of questions to users. These questions should take no longer than five minutes to answer. Once the questionnaire has been completed, it is automatically submitted to the committee via email.

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Kerry Logistics expands presence in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA (Air Cargo World) – Hong-Kong based 3PL Kerry Logistics has acquired the services of South African forwarding and logistics company, Shipping and Airfreight Services (SAS), to help expand its presence on the African continent.

Kerry Logistics will utilize SAS for its air- and ocean-freight shipment, consolidation, charter, warehousing and distribution services as it pursues its goal to “expand its coverage worldwide.”

“South Africa’s economy has an important standing on the African continent, with excellent trade lanes not only to the Chinese market but also the large exporting economies of the European Union,” said Thomas Blank, Kerry Logistics’ managing director for the European region.

Over the last two years, Kerry Logistics has been expanding its services in Europe and Asia. In July of 2017, it acquired a 50 percent stake in intermodal brokerage company, Lanzhou Pacific Logistics (LPL), servicing Asia and Eastern Europe, and underpinning its role in the One Belt, One Road initiative – the project forwarded by the Chinese government to promote trade connectivity between Eurasian countries.

The company cites South Africa’s growth in automotive production, which accounts for 10 percent of South Africa’s manufacturing exports, as a driving factor behind the decision to partner with SAS.

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These are the most complained about insurance products in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA (businesstech.co.za) – The Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance (OSTI) recently published its annual report for 2017, revealing the most complained about short-term insurers, and the types of insurance vehicles in South Africa that receive the most complaints.

During 2017, the ombud said it finalised a total of 9,962 formal complaints, with an average turn-around time of 131 days.

It said that it fielded nearly 80,000 calls and recovered a total of R87.1 million for consumers, down from R99 million recovered in the prior year from 8,631 cases closed.

The OSTI noted that the bulk of complaints were received in the motor insurance sector, making up nearly half (49.3%) of all complaints, up marginally from previous years.

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The insurance body said that 74% of complaints in the motoring sector were for ‘accidental damage’.

Worryingly, this figure mainly comprised claims rejected on the grounds that the insured was driving under the influence of alcohol. The ombud noted that some insurance companies have introduced measures such as the ‘take me home’ service to manage the risk associated with drunken driving.

“However, it is clear from this year’s statistics, that DUI remains a very real problem for the South African insurance industry,” it said.

The second highest cause for complaints was rejections based on a policyholder’s alleged misrepresentation of underwriting details at sales stage.

Examples include misrepresentations about regular driver details, previous insurance and claims history, credit history, security devices and whether the vehicle would be used for personal or business use, the ombud said.

A significant number of complaints related to rejections based on the policyholder’s obligation to excersise due care and to prevent loss, it said. When the ombudsman assesses disputes of this nature it requires that there be a causal connection between the insured’s conduct and the accident.

Complaints relating to quantum (value) disputes were also high, it said. “These disputes frequently relate to the settlement calculation in respect of a total loss claim, that is, when the vehicle has been stolen or written off. The settlement calculation may result in a shortfall where the vehicle is financed.”

Warranty and mechanical breakdown claims comprised 9% of complaints considered by OSTI in 2017. “We have noticed that the cause of these disputes often arose from the insurer’s advice provided as sales stage,” the OSTI said.

Homeowner claims

For homeowners claims, the OSTI said that given the extreme weather conditions experienced in 2017, complaints largely related to acts of nature.

“The primary cause for complaint was the dissatisfaction with the rejection of claims on the grounds of damage arising from gradual deterioration, maintenance, wear and tear, which is not the responsibility of the insurer to remedy, it said.

“In general, the Ombudsman will assess these matters by asking whether the loss or damage would have occurred if the property had been properly maintained. If it clearly would have occurred even if the property had been adequately maintained the Ombudsman will usually uphold the claim.”

The secondary cause for a complaint under homeowner’s claims related to quantum disputes – the most prevalent being the settlement calculation in circumstances where the policyholder was underinsured.

There were also a significant number of complaints relating to rejections on the basis that no insured event occurred, the watchdog said.

Under household content claims, theft and burglary claims comprised 73% of formal complaints considered by the OSTI in 2017.

73% – theft and burglary claims
7% – acts of nature
6% – accidental damage
5% – power surges
It said it also considered non-claim related policy complaints such as policy cancellations, premium refunds and instances where the insurer has not complied with its obligations.

“Our statistics reflect an increasing number of complaints relating to mobile device insurance claims at 29%, legal expenses cover at 4.3% and hospital plans at 5%. Again, we often find that these disputes stem from the quality of the communication that takes place at sales stage.”

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